LAS VEGAS – Urijah Faber vs. Scott Jorgensen was the nominal main event on Saturday, but to the fans at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, the co-feature bout between Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate was the real attraction.
And while the announced crowd of 5,549 was riveted as Zingano rallied to a third-round TKO victory over Tate at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in Las Vegas, one woman sitting cageside, in particular, had a vested interest in the outcome.
Zingano’s win means that she’s about to become well acquainted with the biggest star in women’s mixed martial arts, UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Zingano earned both the next shot at Rousey’s title and a coaching spot opposite her on the next season of "TUF."
After watching the fight from ringside, the outspoken Rousey, of course, had an opinion on this turn of events.
"I always said the fight that I wanted the most was Cat, so I'm glad that we're actually going to be fighting," Rousey told reporters after the fight. "On the show, you never know. I think I would have enjoyed tormenting Miesha, whereas Cat seems pretty cool. I don't really know her at all, but she seems cool.”
Rousey has been mostly out of the spotlight since her historic victory over Liz Carmouche at UFC 157. But we’ll be hearing plenty from Rousey again soon enough.
"The Ultimate Fighter", which aired last season on FX, will serve as anchor programming on the new Fox Sports 1 network, which launches in August. Rousey and Zingano's presence will mark the first time in the show’s 18-season run that women will be featured in the starring coaching role. It will also mark the first co-ed housing situation, as eight men and eight women bantamweights will compete in separate tournaments, with a six-figure UFC contract going to the winner.
While this seems to have the potential to turn the reality series into a hybrid of "TUF", "The Real World" and "Jersey Shore", Rousey is already warning her potential charges against delving too much into soap opera.
"I'm used to teaching guys that want to learn," Rousey said. "I hope that the kind of guys that try out for this Ultimate Fighter are the kind that are willing to learn from women and are open-minded, and don't give me a lot of trouble.
"I think the series, itself, has kind of gone away from the attention-grabby reality TV-esque kind of genre and more into just a documentary series on the toughest, most competitive tournament in martial arts," Rousey continued. “I think that it's going to be very similar in this season, at least on my team. I'm going to have to remind these girls that this is the first impression you're setting for women MMA fighters because this is a lot of exposure that they're going to be getting.”
As has been well-documented by this point, Rousey comes from an Olympic judo background and won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games before turning to MMA. Rousey has experienced the sort of discipline required to excel on the world’s biggest sporting stage, so she’s not likely to look kindly at a fighter who squanders his or her biggest career opportunity.
"If they're the chick that's screwing around in the house, for the rest of their career they'll be known as the chick that was screwing around in that house,” she said. “Sponsors are going to be looking at that, everybody's going to be looking at that. So if you think it's worth $100,000, that lay, then go for it. But I'm just going to remind them that there's going to be a lot of very permanent consequences to how they carry themselves in house."
In the interim, both the champion and the public will get to know Zingano. The quirky Colorado native, with purple streaks in her hair, cried on her way to the Octagon before Saturday night’s fight with Tate. Once she settled down, she put on an impressive performance. Zingano was in the process of rearranging Tate’s face with a string of standing knees when referee Kim Winslow stopped the fight, which raised Zingano’s career record to 8-0 with seven stoppages.
"It kind of went the way I expected," Rousey said. "Cat looked a lot better at [Thursday’s public] workouts. Miesha is usually the type that really fights above herself in competition, which is one of her better attributes. Miesha looked really good. I thought the fight was stopped maybe a little prematurely, but Cat looked amazing, too. I don't want to take anything away from her. She was lighting her up.”
For her part, Zingano admits that part of her battle is simply getting over her awe of fighters the caliber of Rousey.
“It’s a healthy fear,” Zingano said. “To say you’re not frightened going into a fight, there’s a border between being cocky and being confident, and I like to stay a little bit confident and absolutely not cocky. And I like to have that healthy fear of my opponent.”
Before turning her full attention to Zingano, though, Rousey couldn’t quite resist taking a final jab at her nemesis Tate, who complained that Saturday night’s fight was stopped too soon. Rousey defeated Tate to win the Strikeforce bantamweight title in March 2012, and the two have traded barbs ever since.
"If Miesha wants to complain [that] the fight should have been stopped, then she shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place," Rousey said. "I was really impressed with Cat tonight. I saw a lot of things that were helpful, so I'm glad I came and saw it live. So yeah, I'm looking forward to "TUF." It's going to be cool.”
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @davedoylemma
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